National Parks Off the Beaten Path

In celebration of National Park, happening April 16-24, 2011, free admission will be extended to all visitors. This year’s focus, Healthy Parks, Healthy People, highlights the connection between human and environmental health and the vital role America’s national parks play in both.

Considering we have 394 National Parks to choose from, the option are endless and quite difficult! While I strongly agree, everyone should visit the Grand Canyon, Yosemite National Park, Glacier National Park and Mt. Rainier at least once in their lifetime, why not travel off the beaten path this spring and discover some of America’s greatest hidden gems.

Channel Islands National Park – California

Although established as a national park in 1980, the Channel Islands located off the Ventura coastline north of Los Angeles, this area of ecological diversity was first recognized as a national monument in 1938. Encompassing five islands, Santa Rosa, Anacapa, Santa Cruz, San Miguel and Santa Barbara, this scenic park is accessible by ferry from the Oxnard, Ventura and Santa Barbara harbors. In addition to one of the largest kelp forests along the west coast, visitors may encounter large marine mammals and be carried back in time as the coastline of these islands represents what coastal California may have looked like before large-scale development. In addition to the popular water sports of kayaking and scuba diving, visitors can take a multi-day trek through the park’s largest island, Anacapa. The islands are mountainous and hiking trails traverse across each one. A fantastic spot for whale watching as the islands are located along the migration routes.

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park – Colorado

Move over Grand Canyon there is a (not so) new canyon in town. After years of being recognized as a national monument, the Black Canyon of Gunnison was officially named a national park in 1999. With canyon walls carved out of Precambrian schist and gneiss that is nearly 2 million years old, the depths of the magnificent canyon reach almost 2,500 sheer feet and are 1,100 feet across at the narrowest point.

Located miles from a major city, the Black Canyon offers visitors a feeling of solitude. Just a few of the local residents include red fox, mule deer, yellow-bellied marmot, American black bear, big horn sheep and American badgers.

The canyon rims stand at about 8,000 feet above sea level and within view of the high Rocky Mountain Peaks. The Black Canyon is known for crumbling rock, dizzying heights, and a lack of places to place protective equipment. Rock climbing is a challenge limited to highly experienced, expert climbers only. There are a number of hikes that originate from the North and South Rim and experienced hikers can obtain a wilderness permit for day hiking or backpacking into the inner canyon.

North Cascades National Park – Washington

Fondly referred to as the American Alps, the North Cascades National Park is surrounding by glacier-clad peaks that encompass expansive forests and lush meadows. In fact, this park has the most glaciers within the United States outside of Alaska. Access into the park is limited and the footpath remains the best means of getting around. Established in 1968, this 1,069 square mile park is home to moose, lynx, wolves, black bear and wolverine, yes, wolverine. Occasionally a grizzly bear may also be sighted.

If your time is limited Heather Meadows, which is not actually in the park boundaries, has spectacular views of Mount Shuksan (9,127′) said to be one of the most photographed mountains in the United States.

Visit the National Park Service website for a calendar of events and more information on National Park Week.

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